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“Advocacy, social strategy...none of its business”

Governance of Arts Organisations

Practitioners & Critics Versus Funding Body , Arts of Scotland , July 4, 2018
Governance of Arts Organisations by Practitioners & Critics Versus Funding Body Scotland’s 2012 may have been good for politics but it was not a good year for the arts. Culture's big guns, like David Greig and Joyce McMillan, were loud in comment. The protest of artists was forthright on Joyce McMillan reached for language not heard in Wales: “A blather of mind-numbing policy-speak… mutton-headed bureaucrats”.

The rancour in Scotland homed in on the mission of an arts quango. That mission is quite clear: “charged with supporting and promoting Scotland’s cultural and creative life.”

The critique was stinging: “the organisation finds itself in the hands of a leadership which refers to the allocation of funds as the “boring bit” of its job.” The managers, ran the claim of Scotland’s artists, wanted to do “advocacy, social strategy and business development… demonstrably none of its business.”

Eventually the row claimed the job of the Chief Executive Andrew Dixon. The Herald of 4th December 2012 reported:

“The fall of Mr Dixon, who The Herald understands resigned voluntarily and was not "pushed", has capped a year of constant and growing controversy over both the funding policies of Creative Scotland and the way it speaks and relates to artists.

“Its decision to cut short-term regular funding to more than 40 arts companies attracted bitter criticism with further condemnation for its role in commissioning art projects.

“The divisions have led to what has proven to be a fatal lack of trust between leading artists and companies and Creative Scotland's senior management.

“During the organisation's calamitous year, leading Scottish poet Don Paterson referred to it as a "dysfunctional ant-heap" while the damning artists' letter, signed by figures such as John Byrne, Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, Alasdair Gray, James Kelman, AL Kennedy, Liz Lochhead, and Ian Rankin criticised its "ill-conceived decision-making; unclear language and lack of empathy and regard for Scottish culture".

2012 was nothing new. In March 2011 Creative Scotland was debated in the Scottish Parliament. £58,000 spent on a dance programme based on the works of Alfred Hitchcock and a trip to Tonga to study Polynesian dancing were uncovered.

In January 2015, the organization was lambasted by film-makers. It offered less than half of the money required to a blockbuster film “The Rezort “wishing to shoot in Scotland. The production moving to Wales.

So to 2018. On February 1st two members of Creative Scotland, Ruth Wishart and Maggie Kinloch, stepped down. Their move was in protest was at the lack of time that had been allowed to debate which arts groups should be funded. 20 organisations were set to have their public funding removed entirely.

In her statement Ruth Wishart said it was “dispiriting that Creative Scotland again finds itself a family at war with many of those it seeks to serve”.

In June a parliamentary enquiry reported. “MSPs said the organisation needed to urgently address strategic failings.” Committee convener Joan McAlpine MSP: “We received unprecedented levels of representations from within the sector following Creative Scotland's handling of regular funding for 2018-21.

“With more than 50 responses from artists and arts organisations, it is clear to us that the confidence of a significant element of the cultural sector in Creative Scotland's regular funding process has been badly damaged. In particular we felt that the handling of the process in relation to touring theatre and dance companies fell well below the standard that is expected from a non-departmental public body.”

Creative Scotland in riposte “praised its staff and said it was conducting a review of the funding process.” The relationship of funder to the wider culture was revealed in an email by Chief Executive Janet Archer: “There's been some media criticism of our artistic judgement. I won't tolerate that.”

Neil Cooper went on to write a stinger of an article for Bella Caledonia. His subject was the environmental arts company NVA “just been killed by Creative Scotland.” The killers in his view were “a government-sanctioned quango founded on a bureaucratic, managerialist New Labour ideology which an SNP government – an SNP government – has quietly acquiesced to.

“At that funding organisation’s head are a coterie of middle managers, desperately out of their depth after being parachuted in equipped with little save a passed-down hand-book of the sort of loveless jargon that makes leadership training course graduates feel clever.

“It takes two minutes, however, to realise that those boardroom-friendly phrases are actually meaningless. Despite a catalogue of ineptitude, jaw-droppingly bad decision making and an apparent ignorance of the constituency they are supposed to be serving that borders on self-parody, those at the very top of that funding organisation somewhat miraculously still have jobs. Those working for NVA don’t.”

Neil Cooper went back to the last row: “it’s an organisation that’s never been fit for purpose, and has been a dead quango walking for at least half a decade now. Time to put it out of its misery, rip it up and start again.”

June 6th Joyce Macmillan wrote of “Scotland's failed arts funding agency, Time for a new start, please. This has gone on long enough.”

Critic Mark Brown wrote that funding should be “returned to first principles: quietly going about the business of promoting excellence and innovation in the Scottish arts.”

July 1st Creative Scotland announced that its Chief Executive was stepping down with immediate effect.

Neil Cooper can be read in full at:

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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